In retrospect, the heart of my wonderful Philippine vacation from late January to early March this year was the bonding with family, relatives and friends. The parties, meet-ups over exquisite food, touristy activities and even the restful moments in between frenzied schedules were triggers of fun and sources of entertainment and enjoyment. Yet, they pale against the catching up, lively chats, pleasurable conversations and precious times spent with dear ones. In a capsule — the special bonding.
The truth is, my hectic travels were motivated by the intent to visit as many kinsfolk as possible. And of course, they live in different cities and provinces. During my vacation travels, I was blessed by one very close to me, my Mama’s younger sister, Auntie Rosie Manuel Cruz (widow of Eng. Ben Cruz). She is a most gracious and efficient host. Her home in Naga is a favorite go-to place for visits by relatives from the Philippines and abroad. During my stay in her home (along with my brother Tzetzu, his wife Rorie, nieces and nephews), never was there a dull moment. In the middle of lively conversations, she would tell Amazon’s Alexa to turn on music. Auntie Rosie loves music, and her choices are perfect. My type! Auntie Rosie is our Manuel matriarch in the Philippines, a model of vibrancy, pleasant outlook and wise disposition, and especially, of genuine caring.
Something else claimed special sidelights of my trip.
My Auntie Rosie and I in front of a vista point in Legazpi (Photo by Melodee Isaguirre)
In the Philippines, it is common for families to employ house help that many call “angels”. The angels perform most or many of the household chores including cooking, cleaning, laundry, driving or nanny duties. In many instances, they are companions to elderly folks, or assistants in medical routines needed inside the home. They, indeed, are angels that provide valuable service that makes life better or easier for families or homeowners.
I met such angels during my trip. Being one always interested in people and stories, I engaged in multiple conversations to know many of them. It is humbling to listen to their stories. Often, we forget to be grateful for all that we are blessed with – and listening to them resurges our sense of gratitude. Furthermore, it inspires empathy that leads to a desire to help, or at the least, to give encouragement and appreciation for their hard work.
In every home that I visited, there was always an angel, and sometimes, several of them. In La Union, in my nephew’s household is Nanay (Nanay means Mother, a respectful way of calling someone older). Nanay has worked for many years for Chito and his family. A very soft-spoken woman, she shared with modest pride her joy about her children, the oldest of whom is graduating from college with a science degree. The others are diligently pursuing higher education. Her face radiantly beamed when she spoke of how her hard work and perseverance were motivated by her ambition for her children. With one graduating from college, she is a happy Nanay.
Then, in my Auntie Rosie’s home in Naga City, I met Vilma. In telling me about her family, she expressed concern over where and how her daughter Janine can go to college after her high school graduation this year, not having the necessary resources. The family’s hope is for Janine to complete her college education, and then secure a good job that will enable her to help support her siblings, particularly, to further their education as well. Vilma’s sincerity tugged at my heart, so I offered to help with Janine’s schooling as best I can, by the grace of God, I said.
In Los Baños, Laguna, I spoke with Eden, a daytime help for my sister Chichi and her family. Finding the chance to chat with her before I left for Manila, I learned something about her family. What she earns for household help goes mostly to buying medicines for her daughter ailed with lupus. My heart sank for this mother who works hard as a housekeeper that she might earn for meds needed for the survival of her sick daughter. When I handed her what I called a “tip”, she leaped in delight saying, she can use it to buy more needed medicine for her daughter.
In Manila BF Resort, in the home of my niece Melodee/Karen, I met Lorna, an excellent cook, I’d say, based on the food I had eaten in that home. Very organized and industrious, she finds time to help instruct and supervise Karen’s 8-year-old grandson Matteo, a smart, precocious little boy, strong-willed though well behaved. Lorna told me about past ailments that made her learn to google and read about home treatments from herbs and plants. Years of diligently treating herself with native recipes from locally grown medicinal plants have somehow healed her chronic pains, according to her.
In Calamba, Laguna, in the home of my nephew Siegfrid and his wife Gerlyn, is Ann. I met her for the first time when I was seated on the back porch, looking at the verdant green hill beyond the house and watching the mild breeze sway the branches of the low trees. I enjoyed the view by peering in between fresh laundry hanging on strings to dry. I heard singing to my right. I looked and saw a relatively young woman almost in a squat position except she was sitting on a very low stool in front of a large basin. She was hand washing clothes. A hard chore, but a happy one, because Ann found joy in it and she sang. I was touched. How many of us can burst out in music while we do tasks, big or small. I love music. And when I hear it from someone in the middle of a not-so-easy chore, I appreciate the musician, too.
For sure, there are myriads of angel stories like these. I wanted to share them to encourage others to listen to these stories. Seek the chance to converse with the angels. Their stories are genuine, and they strike at the heart.
At times, when we visit homes, we forget that a big part of what and why we enjoy in those homes is because of what the angels do. I had been mindful of this during my trip. I can sincerely say that while the festivities and merrymaking grabbed much of my attention, I looked for flowers in the crevices, stories behind the scenes, heartwarming reminders that bring out the best in us and, consequently, joy in our hearts.
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